Literature Study GuidesThe Magna CartaSection 23 Section 37 Summary

The Magna Carta | Study Guide

King John

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The Magna Carta | Section 23–Section 37 | Summary



Section 23

No one can be forced to maintain bridges except those who traditionally bore this responsibility.

Section 24

Sheriffs, constables, coroners, and bailiffs may not hold trials.

Section 25

Rents may not increase, except for on lands belonging to the king.

Section 26

If someone dies owning a debt to the king, the king has first dibs on the person's property to pay the debt. The rest goes to the heirs. If the person who dies owed no debt to the king, all the assets go to the heirs.

Section 27

If someone dies intestate (without a will) and owing debts, the person's heirs will distribute his goods. They will pay any creditors under the supervision of the Church.

Section 28

Constables and bailiffs may not postpone payment on goods they have purchased unless the seller offers this arrangement.

Section 29

Constables cannot force a knight to pay money as a substitute for castle guard duty if the knight wants to instead perform the service. If a knight is called into military service, he will be excused from castle guard.

Section 30

No one, not even a constable or bailiff, can take someone's horse or cart without the owner's consent.

Section 31

No one, not even a constable or bailiff, can take someone's wood without the owner's consent.

Section 32

The king will keep the lands of convicted felons for a year and a day, at which time the lands will be returned.

Section 33

Fish-weirs (fish traps) will be removed from all parts of England except the seacoast.

Section 34

A writ of praecipe will not be issued if it means a man will not be tried in his lord's court.

Section 35

Weights and measures will be uniform throughout the kingdom.

Section 36

A writ of inquisition of life or limbs—which helps people avoid trial by combat—will be given freely, without the need of payment.

Section 37

The king does not have as wards the descendants of all those who hold the king's land or who are in service to him.


Generally, Sections 23 through 37 address a whole host of abuses of power by the king and by the king's local officials. They limit the ways the king and his officials can gain wealth, labor, or power through unfair practices. For the most part, it is possible to infer the specific grievance of the barons that led to each section. For example, Section 23 is meant to address the king's practice of forcing people to maintain bridges beyond what they have been traditionally required to do. The king was fond of falconry. When he intended to travel the country participating in this sport, he would specifically require the repair of bridges for his use. This often meant residents of villages had to stop whatever they were doing and get to work on the bridge, interfering with their livelihoods. Other sections are more transparent. Section 25 forbids the king to keep raising rents. Sections 26 and 27 make sure a person's property is not simply seized by the king when he dies.

Sections 24, 25, 28, 29, 30, and 31 indicate some of the kinds of abuses the king's officials often indulged in. These include taking people's possessions and holding bogus trials and investigations. Sheriffs were the top magistrate over a large geographical area and could collect taxes and act as judges. Constables were military officers in charge of operations of royal castles. They had a number of powers such as trying petty criminals and demanding provisions for the castle's use. Coroners were officials with a number of functions, including investigating crimes and determining the value of property. Bailiff is a catch-all term for other royal officials. The barons were upset with abuses across the spectrum of the powers of these officials. Section 29 is a perfect example of how the king's practices and his officials' practices could combine to make an untenable situation for the barons. Many people paid the king for their land through service in the castle guard. But King John preferred to have money in lieu of this service while he employed private soldiers of his choosing. Constables would, therefore, refuse the service of men, demanding the payment of money even when the men wanted to render service. To add insult to injury, the soldier might have to pay this payment even if he were serving in a military venture overseas. This was a distinct duty from castle guard.

Section 34 concerns disputes over who has the right to a certain area of land. The feudal system placed the power to settle disputes over land to the landowners, not the king. Yet King John, following in his father's footsteps, would interfere in this process with a writ of praecipe. This writ gave the authority to settle such a dispute to his sheriff. The barons wanted to preserve their jurisdiction over these land disputes.

Sections 33 and 35 stand out from this group, as they concern trade. Section 33 specifies that fish traps, which impede the progress of goods traveling on the river, be removed from rivers. Section 35 standardized the weights and measures used for buying and selling goods. These sections make clear the importance of trading goods in the lives of landowners.

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